August 1, 2012

Child Photography (Are you editing faces)?

I have a question?  How do you edit your photographs of children?  Do you touch up faces?  If so, how much?  Sometimes I edit without thinking.  In this case, I had edited a picture of a child where I removed all blemishes from their face.  To me, a blemish is equivalent to food crumbs, dirt, bruises or cuts/scrapes which I’d also remove assuming it didn’t fit into the picture.  In other words, if I caught a picture of a child eating birthday cake and then removed all evidence of food from their mouth, it wouldn’t be quite as interesting.  Another example would be if I caught a picture of child crying who fell down and was lifting their pant leg up to see their boo boo but then I removed all evidence of the cut/scrape, it wouldn’t really make any sense now would it?  It’s like I’m removing half the story.  In this particular case, however, this child was posing for me.  It was a close-up of their face with no real story behind it other than “I’m so freakin’ cute with my BIG brown eyes”!  Blemishes in this case were distracting.   It takes someone like my husband to say “do you think the parents would be offended” to make me stop, think, and realize, “I’m yeah, they might find it insulting”! Crap! What to do, what to do?

So I decided to email the mother of the child I took pictures of this past weekend to ask her if it she wanted me to remove blemishes from their child’s face. I thought asking the question at all was insulting but I know it was the right thing to do. Yes, I would have preferred to speak with her in person but I didn’t know her well enough as she was a friend of a friend. I made every effort to word my email carefully reading it over and over again before I hit that send button.  Yeah, you can say I obsessed over it quite a bit!  The last thing I would ever want to do was hurt someone’s feelings.  Anyhow, I pretty much just let the mom know that I do a bit of editing to all of my photos such as color adjusting, contrast boosts, exposure tweaks, and in some cases (like with children) spot removal on their faces.  I made sure to mention that I do NOT, however, remove birth/beauty marks, freckles, or anything that child was born with.  I also do not use skin smoothing and softening tools as I believe it removes the details that make the child unique and beautiful.  I try to keep my photographs as real as possible and true to what my eye sees through the camera lens.  I even used the following example with my own child to give her a fresh perspective:

Aliva has an eye that deviates outward (her left eye). She has Intermittent Exotropia that we are currently treating.  If someone were taking her picture and caught a really good shot of her but her eye was deviating outward and they fixed it, would I be offended?  Personally I wouldn't be but only because 90% of the time her eye is working properly so I know this is how she usually looks.

In the end I got permission to remove the blemishes and, lucky for me, the mom was very understanding and casual about the whole thing.  It was a BIG load off.  I’d like to think the next time I am presented with similar sensitive subjects it will be easier but I’m not entirely convinced.

If you are doing similar edits to your photos of children, how are you going about getting permission from the parents?  Is there a better/easier way or will this always be an uncomfortable discussion?  I’d love to hear from you!

On a final note, I’m linking up the shot below to the following photo challenges.  It’s my best friend, Nancy, with my little one!  I’m absolutely in love with it!

029 RSWM

Sweet Shot Tuesday with Kent Weakley


  1. Interesting thought process. I don't do much touch up work to children's faces (unless they're my own kids) but haven't really given much thought to it. I'll have to mull it over more...

    Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful photo and linking to Project Alicia for WW!

  2. That is a hard question to ask a parent. My personal feelings on the hole are I usually just soften up their skin lightly w/ a natural brush, so lightly that it doesn't cover any adorable freckles or moles. I think what type of photography you do would come into play as well. I like naturally edited photos & usually shoot w/ more of a lifestyle "style." Great point to bring up though! So happy that you're getting out their & sharing your wonderful talent girl!

    P/S Hey... I was thinking/hoping maybe you could do one or a few tutorial type posts on Light Room... or any tips/tricks you learn along the way. I also just got LR4, & am trying to figure it all out! Just a brilliant idea I had! lol) xo

  3. I think minor facial fixes are ok. I don't like the all smooth, looks like mannequin. I have friends that do all of their photos that way, if their clients like that look, then they will go with it. I prefer a more natural look. That being said, I did smooth my grand daughters skin at her six week shoot, as the baby acne was distracting.

  4. I think you did the right thing. If I were shooting for clients I would ask before hand when discussing the shoot. Letting them know how you work and clarifying expectations up front should help eliminate any akwardness.

  5. Personally, I love crumbs and crusty faces! :) Usually when I'm taking pictures of someone else's kids, they're pretty spiffed up, but I do mention something about blemishes when I go over my workflow. I obviously tell them the turn around prior to the session, but I review it when we're done. I might say something like, "so it will be about 2 weeks for me to edit all of the pictures and get the disc to you. I'll do a color and back and white version of each and I can touch up any red marks if you'd like. . . something like that. Usually, if there's a scrape or something really obvious, the mom is all over me asking if I can photoshop it. LOL I do think it's good not to assume and I agree that you should never remove anything that they were born with. Love the pic!
    p.s. my son has a similar condition with his eyes!

  6. I pretty much agree with leaving blemishes if they help tell the story. I actually think it is okay to leave them, because life isn't perfect and why edit out every imperfection pretending it is? But now that I'm shooting professionally, I know that everyone wants to look their best and expects it to translate on camera, so I do edit faces. But VERY subtley. I want the picture to speak for itself, not the edits. If that means leaving unwhitened teeth or some wrinkles, then I do, because I dislike the unnatural look. I don't think it is insulting to edit out imperfections, but today's photography makes me feel so ugly half the time because of the PhotoShopped look. I say to a degree edit faces, but still leave the integrity of their face in tact:)

  7. I usually remove small blemishes (no birth/beauty marks or freckles) without asking but I have only done photo's for my own family.

  8. I think, if one of my children had like, a scratch or scab on their face, I would want it edited out for sure :) But glad that you put so much thought into the details :)

  9. Great thing to discuss. I have been thinking about dedicating a post to this too. With everyone my belief is that if it's something that won't be there in a week- then remove it. If it is something that would take surgery to remove or change- it stays. Then with kids- I just cringe when I see over airbrushed kids. They have near perfect skin already, they don't need to look like a doll. With my kids I might smooth out a little dry skin patch that would detract from the overall image- and only because I made a huge print for my mom once & I didn't look at every inch of the faces in full size before printing. When I got it all larger than life, my daughter had dry lips & my mom complained that she looked like she had eaten a cookie or something. So I now do a very light hand to them & only if needed. But they are kids- it's not like they have large pores, acne or wrinkles- they don't need it.

  10. I love this photo of your friend with your adorable little girl. What wonderful curls!

  11. Such a tender moment .. I love this post, as you know I am starting out as a photographer and mainly I photograph little ones .. I have to say I don't edit them much in terms of touch up, I had a 2 month old the other day who had quite a few spots on his cheek as well as some scratches which yes I did take off.

    My friend had photographs of her daughter and they got rid of her birth/strawberry mark which I think is wrong personally I wouldn't do that because that is part of who they are.


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